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Marshall a. dawson is helping lead Bacardi-Martini USA's charge to diversify its spirits portfolio from reliance on its flagship rum.

As marketing manager for the recently acquired Dewar's Scotch whisky, Mr. Dawson will oversee all U.S. advertising, promotions and other marketing support for the brand.

That may seem like a tall order for a 29-year-old, but Mr. Dawson started working in scotch marketing only a few years after reaching legal drinking age himself.

His biggest challenge: find a positioning to stem years of sales declines. Dewar's still is the biggest scotch brand in the U.S., but 1997 sales fell 4.9% to 1.5 million cases, according to industry newsletter Impact.

Moreover, he will have to do it with a new agency.


Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handled Dewar's under Diageo, and currently handles some media for the British conglomerate, as well as its Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskies. Bacardi has already moved media for Dewar's to roster agency Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York.

Burnett continues to handle Dewar's on an interim basis, but it will be moved to another shop, Mr. Dawson said.

Mr. Dawson doesn't expect an overnight turnaround on Dewar's, but he is optimistic.

"Scotch is coming back into popularity," Mr. Dawson said. "It's shifting back to the younger consumer."

Mr. Dawson knows a great deal about scotch, having worked with rival Hiram Walker & Sons, a unit of Allied-Domecq Spirits & Wines, since 1993. His last post with Hiram Walker had been brand manager-single malt scotches and Drambuie liqueur.

Before that, he was brand manager for Old Smuggler scotch and an assistant brand manager for Cutty Sark scotch. He got his start with Hiram Walker as its event promotion manager.


"He was a fresh thinker and he brought a lot of creativity to the brands," said a former colleague at Hiram Walker.

The brands Mr. Dawson handled at Hiram Walker were relatively small. Dewar's, meanwhile, is the 19th-biggest spirits brand in the U.S. Mr. Dawson said he isn't intimidated by the challenge.

"The basic goals are the same," he said. "It's less of a niche market perspective."

Bacardi has a lot invested in its effort to branch out from its flagship rum business, which includes the No. 1 spirits brand in the U.S. even though 1997 sales fell 4.4% to 5.8 million cases. In March, it paid Diageo $1.9 billion in cash for Dewar's and Bombay gin.

Dewar's received $10.2 million in 1997 ad support, according to Competitive Media Reporting, compared with Bacardi's $24.5 million outlay for its rums, chiefly handled by Ammirati.

Tom Pirko, president of consultancy Bevmark, said the changing of the guard gives an opportunity for Dewar's brand's image to be rejuvenated.

"Consumers had a fix on this brand for a long time . . . but everything got kind of stale," Mr. Pirko said. "It has to be [updated], it has to be the scotch for the new millennium, for the year 2000, not 1985."

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